The approval by Congress of the Bangsamoro Basic Law is more of an experiment than a milestone. Muslims in Central Mindanao have long aspired for this. Nobody really knows what will happen once it is ratified, whether it will satisfy or run short of everybody’s expectations. Right now, the government is hoping that its enactment will finally bring about peace and prosperity in that troubled land.
Some say, and rightly so, that the approval of the BBL is more of an appeasement to regain the trust of the people in the provinces that will be included as territories in the so-called Bangsamoro Land after that bloody putsch led by those hot-head Maute groups with the aid of the Abu Sayyaf and their foreign adventurers. Maybe the month-long attempt to take hostage the city of Marawi was the dramatization of their frustration to establish a sort of caliphate state in Mindanao.
The defeat of the motley Maute group exposed the truth of just how far they would go in their ambition to create a separate Islamic state. The outcome led to the destruction of the only Muslim-dominated city in the country. The siege proved that many of their own people are unwilling to carry on the brunt of fighting to a cause that revolves only to the unhinged ambition of their leaders mainly operated by their foreign brokers.
The lack of overwhelming support revealed that the issue of being treated like second-class citizens and alleged discrimination was all but propaganda. The outcome of the war that cost nearly 1,000 civilian lives and nearly a hundred of our soldiers led to a redefinition of what they really want. Whereas before, the MILF were demanding everything short of independence, highlighted in that failed MOA-AD and followed by their demand embodied in the original Bangsamoro Basic Law, the war spelled out just how costly and brutal it is to them. The MILF leadership uncannily distanced themselves and nowhere to be found at the height of the fighting.
Political observers believe that the Marawi siege indirectly compelled the MILF to whittle down some of their hard-line demands. As one would say, it was the Maute, the Abu Sayyaf and those foreign mercenaries that ruined their plan. For whatever bargain the MILF could now exact from Congress, they will have to contend that the provisions will have to be ratified in a referendum with the majority of the Filipinos somewhat unsympathetic to what they did.
On second thought, the approval by Congress of the BBL could still be interpreted by them as their crowning glory. Finally the MILF leadership of Murad Ibrahim has dislodged the MNLF headed by Nur Misuari in a running feud, not based on religion but on tribal leadership and rivalry. First, that would mean that from now on, it will be the Maranao and Maguindanao that will spearhead and represent all Filipino Muslims, and not the Tausugs. Second, the approval of the BBL would finally shelve our claim of Sabah and invariably reject the proprietary rights of the Sultan of Sulu. Third, for as long as the leadership of the MILF is recognized through the framework of the BBL, Malaysia will have peace of mind.
Right now we could take comfort that not a single inch of our territory was detached to satisfy the demand of Murad who wants to appease his Malaysian, US and Japanese brokers. The Republic will remain in control of the external defenses constituting the proposed Bangsamoro land and of the local police forces. If one would rightly correct that perspective, it was the Supreme Court that prevented the fragmentation of the Republic of the Philippines by their rejection of the original BBL Law. It was the judiciary and the military that combined their power and authority as institutions of government that preserved our territorial integrity and sovereignty as an independent state.
But as it is, politicians are again doing everything to scuttle what has been accomplished by allowing use of the words “autonomous” and “separate” Islamic state which legally and logically has different connotations. An autonomous state can co-exist with the state that granted its autonomy, but a separate state cannot, without violating the principle of sovereign equality and indivisibility. Maybe the MILF remains allergic to the word “autonomy” for the fact that it has the marking of an MNLF accomplishment.
The only ticklish problem that is hampering the approval of the BBL experiment is the provision of an automatic allocation of yearly funds called “block grant” in the amount of P62.5 billion to be allocated to the Bangsamoro territory. Congress should have realized that it would be unconstitutional to automatically allocate funds to any province, region or territory or to a particular project because the Constitution, and all constitutions for that matter, must appropriate funds. It is the “appropriation” by Congress that legalizes the spending of public funds, stupid!
Legalizing this so-called “block grant” would mean that we would be the only constitution in the world giving away public funds without any appropriation. No government can promise to perpetually allocate an amount much that revenue income is always relative and conditional. The government cannot always give the same amount it promised, especially in times of economic crisis or when other provinces are suffering from decline in revenues, although admittedly, fund allocation can be increased if the economy is doing well. But as always, budgetary allocation requires the ritual of appropriation. It is part of the democratic process on how public funds are wisely spent.
As one observed, if Congress would allow the phrase “separate state” to be included in the provision, the MILF could put substance in the realization of their objective to create a “separate state.” It can be upheld as constitutional and legal like its right to enter into contract with any foreign investors and to secure a loan without the consent of the Republic of the Philippines. We could find ourselves at the losing end, and worse, could be accused of violating a provision of the BBL because these are sovereign acts of state which we allowed by according Bangsamoro Land the status of a “separate state.”